September 29: Tench, Tech, and Telling Stories Better

Fishermen Are Pulling Up Nets Full of Fish, But There’s a Catch 

Moving from invasive species as a global issue, we narrowed our focus to something a little more regional. While commercial fishermen on the St. Lawrence River have traditionally landed species like American eel, black sturgeon and yellow perch, over the last few years they’ve often returned to shore with tales of a different fish overrunning their nets – an invasive species simply called tench. (Fun Fact: scientific name is tinca tinca). Tench, many believe, is the fish most likely to become the Great Lakes’ next successful invasive species. That’s a new take on an old story, however. Tench were originally introduced across the U.S. as a potential food source in the late 1900’s but, except in rare cases, never quite seemed to take. Then, in 1986 they were illegally brought to a Quebec fish farm near the Richilieu River and, like so many invasive species before them, they did two things: escaped to the nearest waterbody and wildly exceeded expectations.

We headed to McGill University’s Gault Nature Preserve to meet tench up close.

An Ambitious Ecosystem Experiment Asks Where Will Tench Invade Next? 

 One big problem scientists and fisheries managers have when trying to predict the spread and impact of invasive species is simply a lack of information. What type of habitat do they prefer? What food sources will sustain them? We visited an ambitious experiment that is trying to get at some of those answers by raising tench in several different types of habitat and seeing which locations produce the healthiest fish. While the results may not tell us everything tench are capable of – many invasive species have defied the accepted science on their suitability for certain ecosystems – what researchers learn here in the nature preserve will help them identify the locations in the Great Lakes that are most likely to be preferred habitat if and when tench arrive. 

Telling Environment Stories Better – In Analog and Digital!

Natural resource stories are some of the hardest to fit into the usual journalism mold. Or, as our esteemed founder always put it, “they don’t break, they ooze.” Adding to the difficulty,  journalists have now traded the role of gatekeepers for one of sifters and winnowers in a digital world – finding facts in a deluge of information. We sat down for an afternoon of exploring some of the difficulties of doing “good” journalism on complex issues, examining some of the stories we’d encountered on our trip and talking tips and tricks for getting the most out of our own reporting and writing. We also explored useful tools that can help journalists investigate issues, tell stories better and reach a wider audience.